Serious asthma attacks spike in the fall, doctors urge parents to be proactive
(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – With cold and flu season quickly approaching, doctors are urging parents to take steps now to protect their children, especially those with asthma. You may not realize it, but even something as simple as a common cold, when combined with asthma, can not only be dangerous for children, in extreme cases it can be deadly.
“All it takes is one small trigger - a bad cold, the weather changes, allergens that the kids are exposed to, cigarette smoke - any of those things might trigger those already-irritated airways to go nuts” said Dr. Beth Allen, MD, director of the Pediatric Pulmonary Fellowship Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Actually, colds are the number one thing that land kids with asthma in the hospital. They’ll come down with a cold, they’ll start having some cough on day two, and by day three they’re in trouble.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 115 children died in the U.S. last year from complications related to the flu, and among those with pre-existing conditions, 1 in 5 also had asthma.*
“We suspect this is due to a variety of factors” said Dr. Allen. “During the summer asthma tends to be less severe, so some families may not regularly use controller therapies. But with allergens that come into play, the weather changing a lot, and kids catching more colds, it all combines for a perfect storm of asthma flare ups.”
In fact, Dr. Allen says “30% of the kids who end up in the hospital with flu have asthma. So they’re clearly at increased risk, if they get flu, to get quite ill, not only with their asthma but also pneumonia.”
It’s a message that’s not lost Connie Walsh and her 13-year old son Kyle, one of the 7 million children in the U.S. who battles asthma.** As a soccer player, Kyle understands the importance of preparation. Conditioning and stretching keep him in shape, but it’s his inhaler that enables him to play. “Actually starting on the inhaler has allowed him to participate in more things, to a better degree” said Connie.
Kyle says there are times that flares can be more frequent and more dangerous. “Definitely in the fall” he says, when allergy, cold and flu and soccer season are all in full swing.
“We stay on top of it, certainly” said Kyle’s mother Connie who has kept inhalers in the house, the car, with the school nurse, in Kyle’s backpack and soccer bag. “It’a always, always important to have one at hand, especially this time of year, so if he does feel the need, there’s no panic” she said.
If you have a child with asthma, doctors say there are three important steps you should take this fall to protect them.
Have your child get a flu shot. This will give their body’s immune system a head start the flu virus before they encounter it this fall. That is critically important, given how much time they spend indoors and around other kids who might be ill at school.
Take your child in for a fall asthma check up. Since asthma attacks tend to spike for many patients in the fall, it’s a good idea to get your child checked out, just so you know the status of their condition during one of the most challenging times of the year.
Work with your doctor to develop a written action plan. Children with asthma already have an immune system that’s dealing with one disease, so even a simple cold can turn into a serious threat in a matter of days. How prepared you are to deal with different scenarios could make a big difference in the health of your child.
“Parents need to be able to recognize the symptoms, know which medicines to use if they develop, and also know when to call the doctor if that medicine is failing” said Dr. Allen. “Ideally, they should walk away from a visit with this all written down in what we call ‘Written Asthma Action Plan.”
*Influenza-Associated Pediatric Deaths -- United States, September 2010--August 2011. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6036a1.htm?s_cid=mm6036a1_w
**Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Children: National Health Interview Survey, 2010. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Online: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/asthma.htm